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Health services no match for needs, but federal relief will help, Sisolak says


by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current
December 2, 2021

Dr. Naomi Purdy remembers a victorious moment when she called a recent client, who lacked resources to get treatment for an aggressive skin cancer, to deliver news she longed to hear: “you’re going to be OK.”

While there have been losses in the quest to treat vulnerable and uninsured populations, she said there have also been “some really good wins.”

“We have some patients who come out of the hospital and need help but have no access to care,” said Purdy, the medical director for Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada. “One of the patients we got had a malignancy on her hand, a very aggressive skin cancer with the potential to spread throughout the body. She was sent home to get a full evaluation but she didn’t have the money. She came here.”

At the facility, the patient was able to get the recommended scans, lab work and radiology she needed until she got a clean bill of health.

The story was told to Gov. Steve Sisolak Wednesday as part of his “Health Care Week,” in which he visited health care centers serving vulnerable populations and met with providers to hear how the state could help with their needs.

In addition to Volunteers in Medicine, Sisolak also toured Martin Luther King Family Health Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center that serves at-risk populations who lack access to care.

While both facilities are filling in gaps in medical needs for those uninsured or underinsured, representatives from both stressed that the patient demand is growing. 

In an interview following the tour, Sisolak said the state will be looking “at how we allocate our resources, where they are best spent and if we can do anything to increase them.”  

“It’s becoming more and more clear and prevalent that the need is so much greater than our ability to provide services,” he said. “We need to analyze where we can best allocate our resources, whether that’s a reallocation of resources to one sector or another to get more on the proactive front end of some of this in our health care so we don’t have people in our emergency rooms clogging them and not being able to provide care for those most in need.” 

Disparities in the health system, Sisolak said, was one of the most prevalent concerns he heard during a recent Nevada Recovers Listening Tour. 

“We had thousands of requests come in for different proposals and programs,” he said. “Health care, rent subsidies and education are probably the biggest ones.” 

With federal relief money that has come into Nevada, he added, the state has “money available and more grants available that hopefully we can funnel to organizations” like Volunteers in Medicine. 

He said state officials are still working through proposals submitted by Nevadans on how the state could spend American Rescue Plan relief money. 

Of the $6.7 billion that came to Nevada, the state has $2.7 billion in discretionary spending, along with pockets of money for issues like housing, child care and food insecurity.

There is also $232 million specifically for health care. 

“Unfortunately, there is not as much money as we’d like there to be. We want to make sure it’s invested appropriately and wisely,” Sisolak said. 

Prior to the pandemic, Sarah Hall, the eligibility coordinator with Volunteers in Medicine, said the organization received between 30 to 50 calls each week from “people wanting to be patients.” 

“Currently we are receiving 60 to 80 calls per week with individuals wanting to receive services from us,” she said. “We try to serve as many as we can.” 

Aside from offering appreciation for health care staff, Sisolak also sought suggestions on how the state could help with needs. 

Requests ranged from more funding to keep up with community demands — which are increasing as the state’s population grows — to helping solicit more volunteers to provide health care services. 

While saying they have a large pool of volunteers, some decided not to return following the pandemic. 

It wasn’t the first time Sisolak heard about health care workers leaving the industry. 

Sisolak, who also met with the Philippine Nurses Association of Nevada on Tuesday, said providers also spoke of burnout from the last year and left the industry. 

“We know that the pandemic has caused a tremendous burden on our health care providers,” he said. “The stress level is astronomical.”

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: [email protected]. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

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